Population, health and environment: HIV/AIDS
- Promoting HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention in local communities, and providing AIDS-impacted communities with sustainable livelihood alternatives to relieve environmental pressures.
- Helping maintain conservation capacity through awareness and prevention programs for conservation workers, including HIV/AIDS workplace policies in environmental organizations.
- Using lessons learned in Africa to help other vulnerable regions of the world reduce the conservation impacts of HIV/AIDS.
- Predict and plan for longer-term impacts of the pandemic on biodiversity, for example from changes in demographic patterns, and likely livelihoods of AIDS orphans when they are adults.
More than 28 million adults and children are estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa. HIV/AIDS is resulting in a new social structure and dynamic that is affecting every person, organization, and sector, including natural resources. The natural resources sector needs to develop and adopt coping strategies to mitigate these impacts.
When rural households lose economically active adults who earned salaries or provided agricultural labor, they often turn to natural resources as a livelihood safety net. This can result in more hunting and fishing, and greater fuelwood collection for the household and sale. More timber is also harvested for coffins. Changes in land use occur as agricultural practices shift with the falling capacity for heavy labor and sale of farm implements for short-term cash. Fire is used more frequently to clear land for agriculture.
Women are disproportionately affected by the epidemic because they are the main caregivers, and they suffer a higher incidence of the disease in Africa than men. In addition, many of the natural resources traditionally managed by women are in higher demand: water for washing the sick; wood for warmth, boiled drinking water and coffins; and medicinal plants to treat additional infections brought on by AIDS.
Girls in AIDS-affected households tend to be less well-educated because they are needed to help in the home and there is less cash for school expenses. Women have much less time to participate in sustainable natural resource management programs and may lose their land if the male head of the household dies. If all else fails, they may be forced into prostitution to feed their families - which accelerates the spread of HIV.
In addition, AIDS-related deaths in Africa are seriously affecting conservation programmes in protected areas and community-based natural resource management programs. Investments in staff training are being lost as key leaders, managers and others succumb to the disease. The conservation sector is particularly vulnerable because staff is often based in remote areas away from their families, where they are at increased risk of taking other partners and contracting HIV. Their risk is compounded by limited access to medical care.